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The Middlesbrough Trophy Cannon

[My thanks are due to Norman Moorsom, whose monograph, Middlesbrough's Albert Park, Wharncliffe Books, 2002, has been my principal source for the history of the gun. Other information has been taken from the leaflet on the gun, which is stated to be from research by B N McLoughlin, published by the Middlesbrough Museum Service.]

The cannon in winter

A gun for all seasons?

The cannon in spring

The gun's life in Middlesbrough

As an industrial town, Middlesbrough was a late developer. The census of 1841 showed a population of less than 6,000. In 1851 John Vaughan discovered ironstone in the Eston Hills, and the town grew rapidly. It was incorporated in 1853, but even by 1862 Gladstone could still describe it as "the youngest child of England's enterprise." The infant town had however been sufficiently precocious to have obtained one of the Russian guns, despite having nowhere suitable to put it. In 1858 the trophy was brought to Middlesbrough by a locally built iron ship, the Advance.

Cannon Lake

For the next eight years the gun had various temporary homes, including a gasworks and a churchyard. At last a suitable location arose when Henry Bolckow, one of the industrialist founding fathers of the town, donated a piece of land as a public park. In 1866 the gun was moved to the new site, and an impressive setting was created for it commanding one of the lakes, officially referred to as the Upper Lake, but soon dubbed the Cannon Lake. In February 1866, after ten years' silence, the gun was once again fired, to commemorate the first tree plantings. The park was named Albert Park in honour of the late Prince Consort, and was formally opened in 1868 by his son, Prince Arthur. The gun remained in its position of honour for the next eighty years, surviving the two World Wars, only to fall victim to post-war "improvements." The Cannon Lake had had a history of drainage problems, and in 1947 the Corporation decreed that it should be filled in. The gun was transferred to the custody of the Museums Service. No suitable site was found for it, and it found itself homeless again.

Below - The gun being removed from Stewart Park

can03 (117K)
Photograph courtesy of Norman Moorsom

The gun was moved to Stewart Park, not to be put on display, but to be dumped. It lay in a wood, and may have been either dismantled or on its side, as there are reports that rabbits nested in it. After 18 years of neglect, the gun's plight was publicised by the local newspaper, The Evening Gazette. Various proposals were made for its disposal, including claims by scrap merchants that they could make good use of it.

Luckily, wiser counsels prevailed and in 1965 the gun was sent on attachment to the Territorial Army. They mounted it on a plinth in front of their Drill Hall, overlooking the main road from Stockton to Middlesbrough. It remained there for 12 or 13 years until proposed modifications to the road network meant that little traffic would pass the gun. It was then demobbed from P Battery DLI and returned to civilian life as a museum piece.

Below - The gun in front of the Dorman Memorial Museum.

The cannon in front of the Dorman Memorial Museum

In 1978 the gun was put on display in front of the Dorman Memorial Museum. The Museum itself has a military connotation, having been built and donated to the town by Sir Arthur Dorman to commemorate the death of his son, Lt. George Dorman, in the South African War. Sadly, Middlesbrough Borough Council now refers to the museum simply as The Dorman Museum, cruelly frustrating the donor's intent.

For the next 23 years the gun was a conspicuous feature in front of the museum, hard by the town's Cenotaph, within sight of the main entrance to Albert Park, and visible from the main road south from the town centre. In the latter half of the 1990s the gun's future again became subject to debate. An application to the Heritage Lottery Fund was being prepared to finance the restoration of Albert Park to its Victorian splendour, and among the early proposals was the suggestion that the Cannon Lake should be re-instated, complete with its eponymous trophy. In the event, engineering surveys showed this to be impracticable. The restoration scheme which was approved and implemented did, however, include bringing the gun back into the Park.

Below - The gun in its present position.

The gun's current location

On 30 November 2001 the gun made its latest move. It was lifted by crane onto a lorry, driven 200 yards or so through the park gates, and again lifted by crane from the lorry to a hard-standing base in the newly established Memorial Garden just inside the park entrance. The base itself had been created in 1925 for a statue of Henry Bolckow, the donor of the Park, but in the intervening years the statue had been moved and the base buried. It was uncovered during the preparation of the Memorial Garden, and adapted to make it suitable for its new occupant. The gun is now approachable from all sides, and there are no barriers to prevent close examination. There is no plaque. The new site has perhaps one disadvantage: the gun is not visible to passing traffic and will be seen only by visitors to the park and those who seek it out. There are more than enough compensating advantages though: it is close to its first real home, it is associated with the commemoration of past wars, and it is more accessible than it has ever been. It is to be hoped that here it will enjoy another long stay.

The gun described.

(Note: All measurements are given in inches.)

Drawing of cannon

Despite all that it has been through, the Russian cannon looks in good shape for a 182 year old artefact - a tribute to its design simplicity and solid construction. Its finer details are obscured by many layers of paint, but its year of manufacture, 1824, is easily discernible. Like all guns of that period, it is a muzzle loader.

The barrel

Dimensions of barrel

The barrel is 8ft 8ins long including the cascabel and button (which takes the form of a horizontally aligned eye). Internal barrel length is probably about 7ft 6ins. The bore is 6 inches. The barrel tapers from an external circumference of 60½ inches immediately forward of the breech ring to 39¼ inches immediately behind the muzzle. The muzzle itself swells to an external circumference of 48¾ inches. The swell is reinforced by two buttress plates, one on either side.

The barrel has four rings (including the breech ring), increasing in width from front to back. The trunnion ring has a small hole at its topmost point. Behind the trunnion ring is the Russian eagle crest. The top of the breech ring extends forward in a rectangular vent block about 4½ inches long and two inches wide, through the rearmost part of which the vent passes. There is a fore and aft groove down the centre of the vent block continuing across the top of the breech ring. There is a horizontal hole in each side edge of the vent block at its forward point. It is not possible to see whether this was a single hole passing all the way through. The breech ring is indented with grooves each side, marking the centre line of the barrel when viewed from the side.

The trunnions are about 5¾ inches diameter. Where they join the barrel the undersides have shoulders in the shape of half cups which are 3½ inches wide in the centre and ½ inch wide at the extremities. This ensures that despite its curvature the barrel abuts the entire semi-circle of the trunnion stirrups. The tops of the trunnions are in line with the horizontal diameter of the barrel.

The carriage

Dimensions of carriage

The carriage is a masterpiece of the ironsmith's art, combining functionality, elegance, strength, and simplicity in equal measure. It is formed of two main pieces, mirroring each other, each in the form of a lowercase lambda with a closed base (or an uppercase delta with an extended arm) on its side. At the front the uprights (actually they incline backwards at an angle of approximately 18 degrees) are 19½ inches apart, but the longitudinal members curve inwards towards the back to form the trail, where the two pieces are only 12 inches apart.

For most of their length the uprights are 4¼ inches wide and 3¾ inches thick. At the bottom end this increases to 6¼ inches square for the axle housings, and at the top end to 5½ inches wide for the trunnion stirrups.

The longitudinal members are about 2¾ inches deep and 2 inches thick. The upper member is flush with the inner edge of the upright and curves gently inwards towards the trail. The lower member is flush with the outer edge of the upright and sweeps inward in a shallow "S" to meet its mate. Their combined depth at the trail is about 5½ inches.

Dimensions of carriage.

The two side assemblies of the carriage are fastened together by the axle and four tie rods. The tie rods are round section, 1½ inch diameter, with threaded ends, fastened by 2½ inch hexagonal nuts. There are two through the uprights, one where the side members join to form the trail arm, and one near the end of the trail which acts as an axle for an 8 inch diameter roller.

The elevating screw

Dimensions of elevator screw.

At the front part of the trail a 12 inch square plate is welded between the two sides to make a mounting for the elevating screw.

The gun is set at an elevation of about 24 degrees. The elevating screw has clearly been damaged, and may even have been modified.

The axle

Dimensions of axle and fittings.

The axle is a single fixed beam 66½ inches long. The middle 36½ inches is 4 inches square section, and 15 inches at each end is round section 4 inches diameter. It passes through the axle housings near the bottom of the carriage uprights and is secured by a hexagonal-headed set screw in the rear face of each housing. Each end of the axle is pierced by two vertical holes for the pins which retain the wheels. There is an iron washer between each pin and the wheel hub.

The inner and outer pins are of different construction. The outer pins are straight spikes about 6½ inches long with rectangular heads measuring 1 inch by 2 inches, hammered home until they almost touch the axle. The inner pins are L-shaped, with a flat 8 inch long tapered spike and a 4 inch long head. The relative sizes of the pin and its axle hole means that the pin stands proud about 2 inches above the axle.

The wheels

Dimensions of wheels

The wheels are 30 inches in diameter. The rims are 4 inches wide and 1¾ inches thick. Each wheel has eight spokes, formed by two "H" shaped plates fixed at right angles to each other. The plates are 9 inches across at the waist, with sides curving outwards from there. The spoke arms are 2 inches wide where they meet the rim. The plates are 1 inch thick at the hub region, but the spoke arms thicken towards the facing sides and are 2 inches thick at the rim. This ensures that although alternate pairs of spoke arms are necessarily offset by the thickness of the plate at the hub, all eight spokes are set at the same distance from the edges of the rim, namely ½ inch from the outside edge and 1½ inches from the inside edge.

Where they cross, the two spoke plates are sandwiched by circular plates 1 inch thick and 9 inches in diameter. The faces of these plates are level with the edges of the wheel rims. On the inner side of each wheel there is an additional 1 inch thick circular plate whose diameter tapers from 6 inches to 5 inches.

Some photographs

The business end of the gun is intimidating.

Front view of gun
Front face of muzzle.

Below - A gunner's eye view

Russian eagle crest

The eagle crest and the hole in the trunnion ring can be seen.

Below - Another view from the rear

Rear view of cannon

This view shows how the carriage side pieces curve back to form the trail. Note the trail roller, the elevator screw. the cascabel, and the vent block.

Below - The vent and vent block


Right — The longitudinal score across the breech ring and along the vent block is discernible.

Below — The side views of the vent block below show the holes at the front end and what appears to be a rivet or bolt passing through the vent block just in front of the vent itself. The top of the barrel is indented at this point. Could this be what is left of provision for attaching a sighting device? Or possibly clips for attaching the rammer and other appurtenances?

Vent block, left side

The left hand side of the vent block.

Vent block, right side

The right hand side of the vent block.

Below - Another angle on the rear end

The cascabel eye and trail roller.

In this view of the rear of the cannon, a clumsy photographer manages to get not only his feet but also the camera strap into the picture. However, his size eights do illustrate the substantial proportions of the trail.

Below - A front view of the carriage

Front view of carriage

The trunnion shoulders are discernible.

A closer view of the trunnion shoulders

Close-up of trunnion shoulders

Below - The right-hand trunnion inscription

Trunnion, right

The trunnion inscription shows that the gun was classed as a 24-pounder and was cast in 1824. The inscription “120 - π ” could indicate the gun’s weight in poods. This would put it at just under two tons. When it was last moved the gun and carriage together registered 3.2 tons on the crane’s recorder. (I am indebted for this information to Norman Moorsom, who witnessed the move and had the foresight to ask the crane driver for the weight.)

Below - The left-hand trunnion inscription

Trunnion, left

Below - The muzzle swell and buttresses

From the side

Side view of buttressed swell.

From below

Bottom view of buttressed swell.

Below - The elevator screw - front and rear views

Elevator front view
Elevator rear view

Below - The elevator screw - side views

Elevator side view, showing bend.
Elevator side view, showing weld.

The side views show that the screw has been bent, and also that it has been welded to the breech ring and to its socket. I suspect that modifications have been made to the whole elevator assembly during the gun's travails in Middlesbrough.

Below - The axle pins

Axle pin, outer
Axle pin, inner

The inner pins seem to be designed for quick release. This is strange, as it is the outer pins which would need to be withdrawn to remove a wheel. The second picture shows the wear on the top of the axle just inboard of the inner pin. This is the same on both sides of the carriage. My guess is that it was caused by gunners standing on the axle during the gun's 30 years service with the Russian army.

Below - Damage to a wheel hub

Damage to right wheel hub.

This is a view of the right hand wheel from the rear, showing that a piece has been broken from the wheel hub. It is not known at what point in the gun's career this damage occurred.

Below - An axle retaining screw

Axle set screw.

The axle is retained in the carriage by two set screws. It appears also to be welded in place. This may have been done during the gun's sojourn in Middlesbrough


The dog watch

Chloe takes the dog watch.

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